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Adopting a Digital Transformation Mindset for Workforce

As the workforce development world has moved toward digital transformation, I hear it getting lumped together with modernization. The problem with that goes beyond simple confusion of terminology. One of these approaches is technology-centric; the other is built around how humans use technology—and how that interaction takes an organization to the outcomes it wants.

First things first. Modernization is a simple idea wherein organizations upgrade existing tools, systems, platforms, and so on to keep pace with ever evolving technology. It ensures your technology integrates improved capabilities and requirements. Nobody would opt out of that, right?

Well, not unless they were looking at the purpose of technology. The strategy behind it. What the humans who use it need. That’s a digital transformation approach. It’s not focused on keeping up with advancements but on utilizing those advancements to redefine the way we work and envision new possibilities for the people we serve.

I was excited to see so much focus at the NASWA Winter Policy Forum was on modernization in the workforce development world. I heard great examples from states and workforce partners leveraging technology to work more efficiently through the pandemic and reach clients who otherwise couldn’t be reached due to stay-at-home orders. My concern is that, although these solutions are a positive step in using technology more effectively—and less intimidating, not to mention expensive, than digital transformation—they don’t deliver on the potential that could be achieved or the outcomes organizations hope for and acutely need.

On top of all that, I’d argue that digital transformation is misunderstood as a monolithic, all-at-once, massive undertaking that disrupts work and costs slightly less than the space station.

Digital transformation: Three places to start

One of my takeaways from NASWA was that ideas are shifting; there is more openness to not only evolve the tech tools we use, but to step back, question the why of what we are doing, and consider a better, more strategic way. We have an opportunity to leverage this strategic thinking as the starting point for improvements that serve the humans on both sides of the transaction. Truly a digital transformation process.

As I’ve reflected, three key changes within the workforce community seem ripe for digital transformation.

1. Smarter communication

We know more about the customer than ever, which means organizations can engage with them in the ways that make the most sense for the moment, the customer, and the goal of the interaction. Outreach can be much more than a one-way stream of information that doesn’t create communication. Customers can get more than a form.

The actual processes and tools you use to make that happen are less important than the transformative practice of pausing to evaluate what you know about who you’re reaching and then pursuing the solutions that make sense for those customers and for the objectives you want to achieve. Chat bots, dynamic call center solutions, text-to-client platforms—technology can change the traditional means and methodology of interaction and should be leveraged to do just that.

2. Flexible engagement systems

The pandemic has taught us all that we don’t have to rely on in-person support, which is incredibly expensive, anyway—for jobseekers and the programs that serve them. Video and audio systems enable hands-on support, but your customer services resources are better utilized by keeping agents in reserve for those cases that truly need one-on-one interaction.

Certain parts of the process can be automated with self-service tools. Others can happen virtually. Addressed strategically, your approach to the processes that serve your customers can become less expensive, less time-consuming, and much more effective.

3. Evolving hiring solutions

The mechanisms companies use to hire have evolved considerably—employers are engaging with sector strategies and deploying high-tech, targeted engagement systems to get an edge in an increasingly competitive talent environment—while the tools workforce agencies and regional intermediaries use to help people find jobs have lagged.

Digital transformation can reimagine how agencies support individuals navigating the fast-evolving hiring market. It can enable greater alignment of tools and processes so that more people get back to work more quickly, ultimately resulting in a more efficient system and greater economic self-sufficiency.

From here to there with careful analysis

You’ve probably noticed that none of my recommendations includes a technology tool. My real recommendation is to approach any and every challenge from a people-centered vantage. It just doesn’t matter whether you’re keeping up with technology if you aren’t using it to help people.

Digital transformation prioritizes humans—what they need and how they work—and then works from there to find technology solutions that fit. It requires investigation into stakeholders at various levels, within and outside your organization. It delves into the whole picture of how individuals engage with the system.

That’s a much more involved process than implementing an upgrade. It also brings much better results—greater efficiency, higher return on investment, and a lot better outcomes for the people who need them.

Todd Hurst is a Senior Consultant at KSM Consulting on the Public Sector Services team and holds a Ph.D in educational sciences from the University of Kentucky. Dr. Hurst has extensive experience working with and researching school models in Indiana; particularly focusing on innovative models of education, including early college high schools, New Tech schools, and CTE.